Disaster Management Authority has to go beyond advisories

| MAY 15, 2024, 09:37 PM IST

Goa is on the cusp of another monsoon and the focus is now on the State’s preparedness for the season. If we recall, last year the discourse veered around the need to do a structural audit of all heritage structures across Goa even as a couple of them gave way in South Goa, including a part of the heritage building that houses the Urban Health Centre of Margao.

Last month, the Chairperson of the Disaster Management Authority and Collector Asvin Chandru issued wide directives to local civic bodies. The list contains several do's and don'ts. Interestingly, the Chairperson also calls for necessary action to prevent damage to old structures or buildings in a dilapidated condition in South Goa. The concern ahead of the monsoon is obvious in the directive, but the ground reality is starkly different giving an impression that crucial instructions have not been conveyed to the local bodies who have been grappling with problems of varied kind. Top on the list is the number of unsafe buildings that have been standing tall for over five years, some of them even with demolition orders being issued.

The directive from the chairperson of DMA may serve as a timely reminder for authorities to roll up their sleeves, but such directives will mean nothing on the ground. The need of the hour is not advisories, but area-specific redressal. For example, how to tackle flooding that is caused along the Western bypass that dissects through the fields at Margao and Benaulim. In Panaji, the bigger concern is about fighting floods against the background that the city is going through a metamorphosis.

What is crucial is that the DMA must identify vulnerable spots, weak structures, flood-prone areas, unsafe trees, clogged gutters and nullahs and every such threat that could affect life during the season. The idea is to infuse a sense of confidence in the citizenry. There have to be drills based on the previous year’s input and authorities must ensure that standard protocols are complied with. By issuing a generic advisory, it appears that authorities are paying lip service to the exercise of monsoon preparedness.

Secondly, the State government has been talking about conducting structural audits of old and weakened structures across cities, including Margao, but such an exercise has remained elusive for over five years. In Margao itself, there are around 20-25 unsafe structures, but authorities continue to turn a blind eye to them or keep referring to an old and outdated list. The partly collapsed portion of the Margao Urban Health Centre structure last July was rebuilt only a month back. The heritage MMC building which stands tall in the heart of Margao continues to be leaking during rains and needs plastic cover to shield it. These are not good signs.

We can't course-correct through tragedies. For example, a 100-foot-tall hoarding collapse at Mumbai Ghatkopar earlier this week claimed 14 lives and injured another 70 in gusty winds and unseasonal rains that hit the city on Monday. This tragedy was such that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde ordered a structural audit of all hoardings in Mumbai and directed that "dangerous ones" be immediately brought down.

The Disaster Management Authority has often been referred to as a disaster in terms of responses to disaster situations. It’s time to shed that image and get cracking. Goa does not want a Ghatkopar-like tragedy to wake up and take stock of its weak links.  

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